Oscar E Moore

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OKLAHOMA! Groundbreaking revival of the groundbreaking 1943 original

April 24th, 2019 by Oscar E Moore


The genius behind this totally exciting, engrossing, entertaining and country western infused revival of OKLAHOMA! is director Daniel Fish.  Of course he was working with the material of the original two masters:  Richard Rodgers music and the still pertinent and outstanding book and lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II.

It’s no wonder this show still packs a wallop at the Circle in the Square that has been appropriately transformed into an old time Oklahoma community hall ready for a hootenanny only through September 1st.  Hurry and get yourself some tickets to this most amazing production which deserves to run much longer.

Lots of illumination and raw plywood.  The ceiling decorated with multi-colored streamers and picnic lights.  A long table with lots of corn cobs piled high.  Slow cookers simmering chili served during intermission with cornbread, if so desired.  Racks of rifles adorn the walls as well as the cowboys who wear chaps and stubble with their holsters on the ready for whatever might happen.  And a mighty lot does happen here.

Daniel Fish has pared the show down to its vital statistics.  Eleven speaking parts and one dancer.  New country western style orchestrations (Daniel Kluger) are perfectly rendered by the small on stage pit band with guitars, bass, cello, banjo, drums and accordion in tow.  What a glorious accompaniment they provide.  Sound design by Drew Levy A-OK.

The openness of the scenic design (Laura Jellinek) is as open as the prairie and allows the director to keep most actors on stage even when not in the scene proper so that we see their reactions and relationships develop without them even having to speak to one another.

Daniel Fish has dug down deep into the motivations of his characters, unearthing the dreams and desires (yes sexual!) of the men and women of this new Oklahoma territory that simmer along with the cooking chili and eventually explode as loud as a shotgun on stage.

Laurey Williams (Rebecca Naomi Jones) has the right temperament – conflicted and confused with her attraction to guitar strumming cowboy Curly McLain (Damon Daunno) and to Jud Fry (understudy Chris Bannow) the quietly malicious hired hand who lusts after Laurey.  Aunt Eller (Mary Testa) sees through her niece’s hard veneer and tells it like it is.

Gertie Cummings (Mallory Portnoy) is after Curly and determined to have him take her to the picnic.  Toting her private hip flask she is dead serious and her laugh is enough to send shivers up and down your spine.

The abundant comic relief is also supplied in full by Ado Annie (an exceptional Ali Stroker) who rides her wheelchair like a dervish across the stage and back as she is pursued by the dim witted but altogether charming Will Parker (James Davis) who truly loves Ado who loves everyone, especially the one she is with at the time namely the Persian peddler con man Ali Hakim (Will Brill).  What a delightful threesome they are.

The opening of Act II has the traditional “dream ballet” turn into a nightmare choreographed by John Heginbotham and danced by understudy Demetia Hopkins-Greene – barefoot she gallops around the stage, crawls and slithers as boots drop from the ceiling dreaming herself as Laurey about Curly and Jud and where and how it will all end.  A combination of Ingmar Bergman, Mark Morris and Martha Graham.  The country guitar has been replaced with an acoustic rock guitar and is really something.  A far different interpretation than Agnes De Mille’s original work.

Lighting designer Scott Zielinski has created lighting fast changes to fit each of the many moods. Especially noteworthy is the eerie scene in complete darkness between Curly and Jud where Curly feeds into the insecurities of Jud planting some seeds for his death.  A hand held camera projects a black and white video of the spooky darkness in a very erotic scene.

From the opening notes of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” sung quietly by Curly with only his guitar and his twang we are in the newly found territory created by Daniel Fish that is a wonder to behold.

I strongly urge you to visit.  Be adventurous and you will not be disappointed.  Or maybe you will be if you expect this OKLAHOMA! to be what you’ve always known.  New territory is always exciting to explore.

This is my Critic’s Choice for most imaginative and creative musical revival.  Beautifully acted and sung.  Perhaps the cast album might win at the Country Music Awards.  Now that is something I think Rodgers and Hammerstein never would have expected.

2 hours and 45 minutes including intermission.

*6 Outer Critics Circle Nominations including OUTSTANDING REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL


Photos: Little Fang Photo

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